Sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Based on Jn. 17:1-11
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"The Power and Intimacy of Prayer"
What is more powerful than nuclear weapons? What is the most abundant renewable resource available to humanity? What is one of the most important gifts necessary for human life? If your answer is prayer to all three of these questions, you are correct.
In our gospel today, Jesus prays for himself, his disciples and friends, as well as for all Christians of every time and place. The entire chapter of John seventeen consists of Jesus's "High Priestly Prayer." It is the longest prayer that we have of Jesus, which is unique to the Fourth Gospel.
In John's Gospel, Jesus prays this prayer right before he faces his trial, sentence and death. The prayer has been called Jesus's "High Priestly Prayer" because it is, for the most part, an intercessory prayer--that is, a prayer mostly for others. Here we have Jesus knowing that he is going to suffer and die very soon--yet, his concerns are mostly for his disciples and the whole future of the church. This prayer, once again, is one of our Saviour's "signs" of all-embracing love for us.
As I read and studied Jesus's prayer this past week, there were a couple of thoughts which stood out for me. First of all, when one carefully reads and reflects upon this prayer of Jesus; one is left with the impression that, for Jesus, prayer was absolutely necessary. For Jesus, prayer is to the person of faith what oxygen is to the human body. Without prayer--just as without oxygen--human beings cannot survive.
The great spiritual leader, Mahatma Gandhi, also strongly believed that prayer was necessary for life. Here is what he had to say: "I discovered that after a time of prayer, I was able to do a far greater amount of work. A doctor has testified as a medical fact that my blood pressure was lowered by it, my nerves calmer, my mind rested and alert, my whole body in better health. I was refreshed and ready for work, and if previously I had been in a mood of pessimism and despair, after I prayed I was charged with new hope and confidence."
I wonder how our political, economic and healthcare systems would change and benefit, if we were to take Gandhi's words more seriously and apply them in these areas of life?! Prayer, when practiced on a regular basis, is one of the most powerful influences in our lives. It has the power to changes things and change us.
According to Albert Stauderman, here are some things that prayer accomplishes for you: "It unifies your thoughts, making them coherent and consistent. It gives perspective, as climbing a tree when lost in the woods helps you get your bearings and find the right direction. It brings poise and peace, relieving anxiety, stimulating trust, easing a nagging conscience that makes us feel we must do something. It allows confession, the release of emotion and the pouring out of your deepest feelings as you would to an understanding friend or counselor. It corrects your motives (we can pray for those we hate, but we cannot hate those we pray for). It enriches personality by increasing your self-esteem. It gives power, reassurance, and improved morale."
All of this and more prayer can and does do for us. That's why it is vital that we set a time and place to pray, not just on Sundays at church, but every day of our lives. How can we know and love God unless we spend time in prayer each day? How can we grow in our faith without being connected to our Source of life through prayer? Good, healthy, mature relationships require open, honest communication between human beings. The same is true in our relationship with God.
This leads me to the second of my thoughts that stood out for me concerning Jesus's "High Priestly Prayer." The language Jesus speaks in this prayer is very personal, intimate and relational. He addresses God as "Father" three times. This word, "Abba," is a very intimate word--its literal translation is: "Daddy dear," or "Pops." Such language reflects the closeness, the comfort of relationship between God the Father and Jesus.
In addition to this, there are two verses which lift up the intimate, personal, relational quality of Jesus's relationship with God. In verse six we read: "I have made YOUR NAME known to those whom you gave me from the world." Then, a few verses later, in verse eleven, Jesus asks God to: "Protect them IN YOUR NAME that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."
In the biblical world, a person's name and God's name was extremely important. A person's name and God's name represented the whole character and personality qualities insofar as they could be known. For the ancient Israelites--as well as for the early Christians--God's name was the Most Holy Name. It was very special and set apart because the name of God carried with it God's power--power to curse and bless; power to create life; power to heal and to save; power to protect from the devil and all evil.
As Albert Stauderman points out, names are important to us humans: "Sometimes a name describes a person's occupation--Smith, Tailor, Gardener--or gives us information about the person--Redhead, Black, Short. Some names, especially in ancient times, were mere designations. Adam means "the man." Abraham means "father of many." Eve means "the mother." In any event, a name distinguishes us from other people and gives us status. For generations, one of the most prized possessions a parent has been able to hand down to children is a good name."
In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, every Christian becomes a child of God and thus receives the Good, the Holy, Best Name Above Every Other Name. We are baptized into the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We receive the name of Jesus Christ on our foreheads. Along with receiving Christ's name, we are given his gift, his inheritance--namely, graced, abundant life and salvation.
We rejoice in our baptism and in every baptism. When we are baptized in the name of our Triune God, God's name becomes our mark of identification; God has chosen us to be a child of God; a member of God's family. As we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we commit ourselves anew to the oneness; the unity that is ours to share as baptized sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus our God and Saviour. He is alive and risen and present in our midst! Now that's worth celebrating!
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